Ten years sober today. These four words fill me with a strange concoction of gratitude and shock. Gratitude for obvious reasons: I am not dead; my life feels worthwhile, and I have my sanity and people who care about me—which is more than many people get. But a decade is an incomprehensible amount of time for someone who lived in a broken Lincoln Towncar and couldn’t stay sober for an hour, let alone a day or a month. 

Shock is good. I cannot accept sobriety as a given fact. Years ago, an old man in a church basement said, “Stick around long enough, and this becomes a life spent stepping over dead bodies.” It sounded brutally morbid at the time, but it makes more sense with each passing year. I know too many people who’ve died, some with double-digit sobriety who believed they were cured. So I must continue to do what I’ve been taught and keep practicing the little routines that have been drilled into me over the years. Most of all, I must turn outward and focus on others, even though my tendency is to turn inward—as if I might ever solve the riddle of the self. But that’s a dead end.

This morning I went for a run in the desert behind our home. The elevation creeps up subtly, then suddenly. Patches of snow coated the sand, and I carefully picked my way through rivers of broken stones. After fifteen minutes of huffing and cursing, I looked back, stunned by how far I’d climbed. I switched off my running mix and savored the blessed silence. Metaphors abound.

If you’re struggling, please reach out to someone. I’m here.

My friend Earl Carlson took this snapshot of us crossing the street.

Some friends visited this weekend, and we played mah jong at our kitchen table until three o’clock in the morning. A few hours later, we wandered into the desert and touched some cacti. Then we hit Spring Mountain Road for dim sum. That’s when I began to appreciate how many moods exist in Vegas and how dramatically the scenery can change in just a few miles.

In the afternoon, we went to Red Rock Casino and saw Infinity Pool, an excellent film about a man who has a life-changing experience while on vacation and doesn’t want to go home. After sunset, we huddled around a firepit in our backyard of stones. Fifteen minutes and eight miles later, we ate xiao long bao on the Strip before getting lost in corridors of soaring metal and glass. On Monday morning, I found myself wandering through the endless black-lit acreage of Meowolf, an exercise in sensory overload that left me feeling old.

But I don’t mind feeling older. It brings a liberating sense of honesty. For instance, C. and I bought a used PlayStation because we wanted to play The Last of Us alongside the new prestige television series. Maybe we’ll become gamers, we thought. And for a few hours, we diligently killed zombies and collected the ingredients for Molotov cocktails. Then we discovered we could subscribe to Britbox and access an endless supply of quiet murder mysteries. The Playstation waited patiently while we dozed on the sofa to Line of Duty, and a few days later, we returned it.

Recommendations for Britbox programming would be much appreciated.

I spent the first weeks of January cobbling together my favorite running songs because I needed some solid entertainment to keep me moving through the desert’s scale and monotony.

My running life is a messy patchwork: long stretches of moaning while I drag myself along, interrupted by occasional bursts of speediness. This mixtape reflects my style: speedy songs (Tuxedomoon, Demdike Stare), chugging songs (Thomas Brinkmann, Vainqueuer), and abrupt shifts in tempo. There are no biometric rhythms here, just peaks and valleys.

I also need plenty of distraction when I run, so there’s a lot of swirling reverb, mumbling AM radio voices, and trails of static. I extended a few favorite breaks, trimmed some songs in half, and kept adding layers until the thing served my needs. It starts slow, gets going at the 7-minute mark, and if I gut it out to the end, there’s a psychedelic classic to carry me home on wobbly legs.

This hour-long mix seems to work well for a five-mile run or a couple of three-mile runs, and it includes plenty of time for shoe-tying, cursing, dithering, and even a bit of stretching if you do that sort of thing. (But cheetahs don’t stretch.)

  • Thomas Brinkmann – VR 01 01 02 00
    Minus, 1998
  • Sandra Electronics – It Slipped Her Mind
    Minimal Wave, 2014
  • Public Image Ltd – Flowers of Romance
    Virgin, 1981
  • Adult. – Silver Screen Shower Scene (Remix)
    City Rockers, 2001
  • Tuxedomoon – No Tears (Continous Mode Mix)
    International Deejay Gigolo Records, 2001
  • Aural Indifference – Park
    Minimal Wave, 1981
  • Cranes – Beautiful Friend
    Dedicated, 1994
  • Demdike Stare – Hashshashin Chant
    Modern Love, 2010
  • Squarepusher – Love Wil Tear Us Apart
    Warp, 2002
  • The Crystals – Then He Kissed Me
    Philles, 1963
  • Vainqueur – Elevations II (Reprise)
    Chain Reaction, 1997
  • Martin Dupont – I Met the Beast
    Lice Records, 1985
  • Muslimgauze – Sandtrafikar
    Staalplaat, 1997
  • Suicide – Devastation
    Chapter 22, 1988
  • Shackleton – Blood On My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos Mix)
    Skull Disco, 2007
  • 13th Floor Elevators – Slip Inside This House
    International Artists, 1967
  • Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit (Atlas Minor Loop)
    RCA Victor, 1967

James A. Reeves – Desert Run I

2023 | 59:59 | Download
Lake Dolores Waterpark, Interstate 15, California

Last week I drove two hours to Barstow to meet a friend for french toast. We agreed to meet in Barstow because it’s halfway between Vegas and Los Angeles, where he lives. After speeding west across the beautiful blankness of the Mojave, I found M. nursing a coffee in a booth at Roy’s Diner. We both felt the cinematic weight of the scenario, like we should be plotting a murder.

The desert is littered with bizarre facts, and I often think I invented them, like a fragment from a dream or a misremembered film. Example: twenty miles east of Barstow, there’s an abandoned waterpark, and M. and I toured its ruins. I later learned this is where Boards of Canada debuted their Tomorrow’s Harvest album in 2013, and the Korean supergroup BTS live-streamed a concert there last year. These facts are clearly stated on the Wikipedia entry for the waterpark, yet I’ve returned to this page several times this week, wondering if I made them up.

Lake Dolores Waterpark, Interstate 15, California

The sensation of slippage continues. This morning I checked out ChatGPT so I could understand the fuss. I gave it this prompt:

Write a blog post about visiting my friend M. in the Mojave desert, eating french toast, and exploring an abandoned waterpark.

Here’s what it generated two seconds later:

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting my friend M. in the Mojave desert. After catching up over a delicious breakfast of french toast at a local diner, we decided to take a trip and explore an abandoned waterpark in the area.

When we arrived at the waterpark, we were in awe at the state of disrepair the once-thriving park was in. We started our exploration by wandering through the abandoned buildings, peeking into the empty rooms, and trying to imagine what it must have been like when the park was operational. The graffiti on the walls and the debris on the ground gave us a glimpse into the lives of the people who had visited the park. 

The slides were rusted and overgrown with weeds, and the pool was empty and cracked. The park was eerie, but also beautiful in its own way. The natural elements had taken over, and the park had become a part of the desert once again. It was a fascinating experience to see the contrast between the man-made structures and the natural landscape.

As the sun began to set, we made our way back to the car, feeling both a sense of wonder and a touch of sadness at the sight of the forgotten waterpark. It was a reminder of how nature reclaims what man has created. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share this experience with my friend M.

The ability of a machine to generate a coherent narrative in two seconds is stunning, even if it reads like a grade-school essay written under duress. But its observation about the beauty of “nature reclaiming what man has created” is what really frightens me. There’s the sense that the algorithm isn’t just composing but thinking. And this particular observation has the tone of a threat.

Richie Hawtin & Pete Namlook – Silent Intelligence X

From Within 3 | FAX, 1997 | More

Spent last week thrashing in the grip of a nasty bug, my fever dreams enhanced by the American government, which, after fifteen votes for speaker of the House, has been reduced to an endless screech. Here in Las Vegas, we’re catching the faintest edge of the atmospheric river, a weather event that sounds like something from a fantasy novel.

In The Peripheral, William Gibson describes “the jackpot,” a cascade of crises that wipe out most of humanity ten or twenty years from now. His vision of the apocalypse is “multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end. More a climate than an event, so not the way apocalypse stories liked to have a big event, after which everybody ran around with guns . . .” And ten pages later: “Conspiracy theory’s got to be simple. Sense doesn’t come into it. People are more scared of how complicated shit actually is than they are about whatever’s supposed to be behind the conspiracy.”

Shopping at a Walmart in Vegas sounds bleak, but it was remarkably pleasant. Phil Collins sang about how he could feel it coming in the air tonight while I collected the materials for a shepherd’s pie. But the secret ingredient must be found elsewhere: Sichuan peppercorns.

There’s a bird in the desert that sounds like a buzzy little synthesizer, maybe a 303, and I’d like to know its name.

A twilight scene from my desk

Maybe it was a bum pork dumpling or a vicious stomach bug, but I’ll leave the mystery alone and simply savor my return to consciousness after thirty-six hours of being reduced to a sweaty, heaving, grotesque mess. Not a very auspicious start to the new year, although it made me grateful for the things I take for granted, such as speech, digestion, and regulated body temperature.

In the grip of my delirium, I half-watched a lousy Netflix series that can be viewed in any order, which seems like a trial balloon for AI-generated entertainment. But algorithms cannot compete with the messy spectacle of humans. This afternoon I tuned in to watch some jackass repeatedly lose the vote for House Speaker, three times as of this writing. It was a testament to the glorious stupidity of American politics and, relatedly, an extraordinarily entertaining reminder that repetition amplifies humor and pleasure. Sort of like Donald Barthelme’s very short story, The School, which I recently revisited via George Saunders’s Story Club.

Las Vegas last night

C. and I rang in the new year at the top of Route 93, where the Black Mountains unfold and reveal the sudden lights of Vegas in the valley below. Fireworks bloomed over The Strip, and we killed the lights and joined the other cars on the shoulder to watch the show. Parked along a dark highway, watching colorful explosions over the city: it looked like a hallucination. But after twenty years of fantasizing, we’ve truly and finally made it to the desert, and I felt a stillness I hadn’t known in a while. Two minutes past midnight, a steady rain began to fall, and we drove home on an empty parkway, feeling futuristic while fireworks burst alongside our car.

Seven hours later, I woke up with aggressive sunlight in my face. The sky was an overwhelming blue, a blank new year stretched before me, and the night before felt like a scene from a half-remembered film. My resolutions are the same as usual, although slightly more attuned: write more (always start with paper + pen) and read more (in a chair rather than bed) and also worry less, run farther, be more pleasant, and make some music again.

I’ve given up my hunt for the bleeding edge. Perhaps we’re living in an exhausted age that offers only iterative variations on deep-grooved patterns. More likely, I’m too old to catch the mind-blown thrills I felt twenty or thirty years when I first heard Boogie Down Productions, Drexciya, Autechre, and Thomas Brinkmann.

Several of my favorite albums this year came from artists who delivered my favorite albums from other years: Romance, Ralph Kinsella, Pye Corner Audio, and Kali Malone. Bohren & Der Club of Gore did not release a new album this year, but Kevin Richard Martin delivered a pair of records that filled my annual need for a soundtrack for rainy streets. I want to think my aesthetic has become more refined over the years—that by now, I know what I like. But another word for this might be stagnation.

Thankfully, the artists listed here had other plans. They’ve pulled off the neat trick of delivering the sounds I love while pushing them into unexpected nooks and alleys and, occasionally, wheeling around and smashing my assumptions to bits. My favorite records this year sounded messier than in years past: scuffed and bruised yet defiant—which sounds like the future.

Nils Frahm – Music for Animals

Leiter | Bandcamp

Nils Frahm nixes the piano and now I like Nils Frahm. This was my most-played album of 2022: three hours of shadowy pulse and thrum that sounds like it’s keeping something darker at bay. A perfect soundtrack for reading and writing.

Romance & Dean Hurley – In Every Dream Home A Heartache

Ecstatic | Bandcamp

A symphony for today’s malaise that looks backward, cribbing its title from my favorite Roxy Music song, the one where Brian Ferry reaches peak modernism and enjoys open-plan living while he romances an inflatable doll. Wrong-headed infatuations and Ballardian ennui also fill this record as soap operas swirl in a half-remembered fog of ringing telephones.

Kevin Richard Martin – Nightcrawler / Downtown

Intercranial | Bandcamp

A slightly less despondent cousin visits the house of Bohren & Der Club of Gore, where time no longer works and the only illumination is rain-streaked neon. Trapped in the hour of the wolf, Martin soaks his jazz in static and grain until it becomes potent barrel-aged doom.

Ralph Kinsella – In The Lives That Surround You

8D Industries | Bandcamp

The guitar gets destroyed but its ghost remains. Kinsella recorded one of my favorite albums a couple of years ago, and now he’s returned to conjure visions that blister and flare like the afterimage of something that cannot be named. When I close my eyes and listen to tracks like ‘Holding On To Memory Devices’ and ‘An Ocean In The Pines,’ I see the beauty and drama of a burning cathedral.

Erasers – Distance

Moon Glyph | Bandcamp

Drowsy Casio calypso beats and dead-eyed vocals edge toward a liturgical reenactment of Murakami’s superflat theory: pure stasis, the carcass of a cold-wave song circa 1982 buried beneath a thousand layers of acrylic.

Kali Malone – Living Torch

Portraits GRM | Bandcamp

A pair of long-playing heavenly drones with bursts of science fiction at the edges. Thanks to composers like Malone, Tim Hecker, and Yosuke Fujita, the pipe organ feels essential in the 21st century. (If you worship in the church of Chain Reaction, Maxime Denuc’s Nachthorn smudges the line between novelty exercise and classic timepiece, esp. “Dusseldorf”.) With Living Torch, Malone trades the organ for trombone, bass clarinet, and sine wave generators, but her harmonics remain pure stained glass.

Civilistjävel! – Järnnätter

Felt | Bandcamp

Electronic music as topography: plenty of breathing room with miles of alpine air over pristine clicks and deep valleys of bass. This project remained clandestine for a while, harkening back to the golden age of faceless machine music distinguished by clinical names like Model 500 and Basic Channel. Now we know Civilistjävel! is the alias of a quiet Swede, but there’s still plenty of mystery in the music.

San Mateo – Exspiravit Luminaria

8D Industries | Bandcamp

100% uncut Blade Runner aesthetic: plaintive chords and endless twilight, the image of some new lifeform crossbreeding Stars of the Lid with Vangelis at the edge of the sprawl.

M. Geddes Gengras – Expressed, I Noticed Silence

Hausu Mountain | Bandcamp

If you prefer a more incense-soaked Vangelian future, M. Geddes Gengras pairs psychedelic twang with his cyborg bells. This was the first album I played when I set up my office in Vegas, where I finally have a desk large enough to enjoy a stereo field, and it’s a deep artificial dream forever looping the moment psychedelic music reached for the sitar, affirming that tomorrow’s music can also steep itself in magic.

Pye Corner Audio – Let’s Emerge

Sonic Cathedral | Bandcamp

Midnight gets dragged into the sunlight, where it’s peeled and stretched into steam-gathering drones and dreamgaze guitars. A welcome update on the blissed-out and spiritualized sound, this album plays like a movie I would very much like to see.

The Black Dog – Brutal One to Five Mix v2

Dust Science | Bandcamp

The Black Dog has held the fort since ’89, and with this one-hour mix, they melt down their recent fixation on architecture into glorious ambient exhaust.

Honour – Beg 4 Mercy

PAN | Bandcamp

Originating from points unknown, this gunky tape lurches from battered breakbeats to hypersaturated spaghetti westerns to bottomless hum. Each time I play this, I remember the teenage nights when I would drive around Detroit to watch the steam rising from the winter streets.

See also: 2021 Rotation and 2020 Rotation and 2019 Rotation and 2018 Rotation.

Las Vegas, 2022

It rained in Las Vegas last night. For a few minutes, I sped down a rain-slicked desert parkway with beads of water across the windshield. When I rolled down the window, a beautiful scent filled the car. Like fresh vinyl. But I’m not a nature writer.

The unique scent of desert rain has something to do with dry soil and the creosote bush, and it has a scientific name, petrichor, derived from the Greek words for stone and the blood of the gods.

The rain stopped as I pulled into the parking lot of a church in the far northwest corner of the city. I sat in the basement for an hour and listened to men speak. A small map hung from the far wall with a blob of land around a body of water, and after squinting at it for a while, I thought I could make out the shape of Clark County and Lake Mead. Later I realized it was a map of Guatemala.

Disorientation has become my hobby. Each day I learn something new. For instance, Las Vegas has more Del Tacos than any other city in the United States, and it’s exponentially better than Taco Bell.

My current night-driving soundtrack is this Dutch track from ’82 that sounds downright sinister forty years later: They call it computers, useless anyway, they say it’s the future, they say it’s useful for us. Do you remember when we used to be human? They call it robots, meant to be your friend. They say it’s the future, they say it’s useful for us, and we should be grateful…

Nine Circles – What’s There Left?

RadioNome | VPRO, 1982 | More
Durango Drive, Las Vegas, 2022

It was cloudy in Las Vegas today. Unlike the blank winter grays of the Midwest and East Coast, these clouds are well-defined, painterly, and startlingly low. Here and there, sunlight escapes and soaks the mountaintops. Each time I step outside, I feel like I’m on a new planet, and I wonder if I will ever tire of the desert.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. This is the monumental first sentence of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and it came to mind while I languished at the post office for an hour, waiting to pick up a key to my mailbox. Last night I crossed the halfway point of another Gibson novel, The Peripheral, and I’m not sure whether to proceed. Abandoning a book feels like a failing on my part, but doggedly finishing every book I begin, even if the rewards have diminished, might point to a deeper failing. That said, I’ve enjoyed big-game future-casting in The Peripheral, and Gibson writes like he knows something I don’t, but now the plot has eclipsed character and concept, and with 250 pages remaining, maybe I don’t need to know who did it.

A nearer vision of the future, via Ryan Oakley: “And, perhaps previewing of the shape of future wars, automated plagiarism detectors have been deployed against automated essay generators.” I’ve added his novel, Technicolor Ultra Mall, to my queue. And I might go for a long walk into the desert after reading this post from Craig Mod: “Basement solitude — isolated without serendipity, static, stagnant, stuck with your face in a screen, manipulated by the algorithms — is the death of the soul.”

But it’s the time of year to celebrate the sleazy synthesizer that appears around the 3:30 mark in Autechre’s “Cloudline”.

Autechre – cloudline

Exai | Warp, 2013 | Bandcamp

Las Vegas feels like the future, e.g., there’s a new face-slapping league. But I’m also living in the past. I loved working with West Coast clients while I lived in the Eastern Time Zone. Sure thing, you’ll have my files in the morning. Of course we can talk at 9am. But when I wake up now, New York has been busy for hours, sending me things to do.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to ditch the lunatic habit of checking my inbox thirty seconds after opening my eyes. These days I wait until I’m showered, meditated, caffeinated, and I’ve done some writing. Then I pick up my telephone and look at all the little red bubbles. Cultivating this small habit was more challenging than it sounds because my lizard brain craves the neurochemical buzz of new information. Maintaining my morning ritual in the Pacific Time Zone will be harder now that I know everyone elsewhere has been busy without me. But it might offer a much-needed lesson in humility: the world will get along fine without me for a few hours. It’s not like I have the nuclear codes.

Yesterday I returned to running after a three-week hiatus, and it was ugly. Today I’ve returned to working on the novel, and the results are the same. Why am I doing this? Why doesn’t my brain work anymore? What the hell is happening on page 182? What’s the point of fiction anyway? And so on. But this is par for the course. Muscle memory dies quickly, but it also returns. It just requires surfing some waves of doubt and self-loathing to find it.

As I begin to orient myself in Vegas, I know I’m edging too close to the Strip when the plasma donation centers appear. Meanwhile, a record-shattering snowstorm is sweeping across the rest of the nation. According to the news, everyone in the Midwest will be dead by Friday.

The population of Vegas is expected to double within the next fifty years. Last night I talked with a man in his eighties. “The Air Force sent me here fifty-nine years ago,” he said. “I fell in love with the desert and never left.” When I told him where I lived, he said it was all desert back then. He mapped the city with his hand and drew a line down the center of his palm. Everything on the left side was desert. “You had to drive for miles to get to the mountains. Now they’re in your backyard.”

Here are some ritualistic Dutch synthetics from ’82:

It’s the longest night of the year, and I went for my first Las Vegan run. Ordering cheeseburgers through a small metal box for two thousand miles has taken its toll. I looked like an abomination as I hauled myself along an empty avenue, screeching and swearing. The mountains peered down at me, laughing in the dark. It was too late at night to run, I decided, and I turned back after two miles.

It was 4:38pm.

I love the night, but there’s too much of it here. Due to some 19th-century railroad logic, Nevada is the only non-coastal state in the Pacific Time Zone, and Vegas is tucked into the far eastern corner, only thirty miles away from Mountain Time. In December, the sun technically sets a little after four o’clock in the afternoon, but it sinks behind the Spring Mountains an hour before that. For the first time I can remember, I’m grateful we’re going to start making more daylight tomorrow.

Until then, here’s some sludgy cold-running new wave from Japan circa 1980:

Life has been a blur since the night C. and I left our car in the driveway of the little house we rented at the edge of the Vegas sprawl. We flew back to Ohio on a jam-packed redeye to collect our belongings. Traveling on Spirit Airlines is a mythic test of a person’s spiritual fitness, and I spent four hours squished in the middle seat, fighting a gargantuan woman for the armrest.

Four days later, I loaded a 15-foot U-Haul with our furniture and pointed it southwest. I drove alone to spare C. thirty hours in a juddering truck. She’ll fly to Vegas in a few days, probably on Spirit Airlines, and I’m not sure who will suffer more.

In Indiana, I drove past the world’s largest mailbox, and I slowed down to admire the holiday lights on a lone farmhouse in the night. In Missouri, I had a fantastic cup of cinnamon coffee at a Flying J before crashing at a Super 8 somewhere in the Ozarks. I followed the path of Route 66, pushing sixteen hours behind the wheel, and by the time I hit Oklahoma, a fugue state had taken hold. Highway hypnosis. White line fever.

A flipped semi burned in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 44. Hallucinatory signs began to appear: Visit the Infant Jesus of Prague. Exit right for Garth Brooks Boulevard. A billboard in Tulsa demanded freedom for women in Iran. As my U-Haul swerved across nine lanes of Amazon delivery trucks, a neon sign asked Are you prepared to meet Jesus? and I was certain I was going to die.

Billboards across the panhandle told me to find nirvana, win a free furnace, and invest in crypto. The radio encouraged me to purchase Patriot Supplies, a bundle of freeze-dried food that will help me “prepare for what’s coming” because I’ll definitely need at least 2000 calories per day. The radio said a record number of guns were confiscated from Americans this year, and eighty percent were loaded. An earthquake in West Texas sent tremors across Amarillo, but I felt only the constant shake of the truck. I saw a shooting star and a half-moon blazed in the rearview. A sign flew by like a koan: Gusty Winds May Exist.

By the time I left Texas, my vision was vibrating from the stutter and shake of the interstate. Rowdy families, sunburnt truckers, and teenage gangs crowded the Flying J at one o’clock in the morning. The motels in Tucumcari were booked, so I pushed another hundred miles west to my second Super 8, where I collapsed and dreamt about mileage. I woke up in New Mexico near a town called Las Vegas (pop. 13,157) which felt like an omen. A lone cow wandered down the ramp to Interstate 40. I sped across the Continental Divide and continued into Arizona.

In addition to the usual slate of vintage electro and motorik, I soundtracked my journey with an audiobook of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, one of those texts I’ve always felt like I’ve read even though I haven’t. The desert washed past my windshield as the narrator said, “The entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarves, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silence within.”

A few miles west of Kingman, I hooked north on 93, where I was the only vehicle on a Saturday night. Entering Vegas felt like a dream as ‘Fade to Grey’ played on the dashboard while my headlights swooped along shadowy mountains on a vacant parkway. Then a field of light appeared below me, and I remembered Las Vegas means The Meadows.

Visage – Fade to Grey (12″ Version)

Polydor, 1980 | More
Awful blurred photo of Vegas, 2022

Another hectic day of touring rental properties. We stopped for lunch at a Mexican spot, and our timing was perfect. Turned out Mexico was playing Saudi Arabia in the World Cup, and cheers and whistles filled the bar. They scored two goals while I ate a chimichanga. Everyone was so happy, and I’m glad we didn’t stick around long enough to find out Mexico wouldn’t make it to the knockout round and their coach was fired.

As we pulled up to our ninth small tan house of the day, “American Woman” rocked the block, emanating from someone’s backyard. It made a fine soundtrack as we punched in the entry code and let ourselves inside a freshly painted home with chipper decals on the walls from an invisible real estate agent. Welcome home! A kitchen you’ll love! From the balcony, we saw the source of American Woman: a chunky old man in a bathing suit climbed out of his tiny backyard swimming pool and poured himself a big drink at his tiny tiki bar. I want to be his neighbor.  

(I never knew The Guess Who were Canadian; the lyrics—American woman, stay away from me—can be interpreted many ways.)

At night, I enjoyed driving along smooth parkways to a fast food joint that serves spicy Korean pork in a cup. This place feels like the future, and I tried to capture the gestalt with a blurry photo of my screens reflected against the sprawl. This is a photographic style I’d like to improve upon.

Touring a Vegas home

Las Vegas. Sunny skies with highs near sixty and lows near freezing. After corresponding with real estate companies, most of which turned out to be automated systems, C. and I spent the day touring homes for rent. Most tours are self-guided now, with robots texting lockbox codes. 

Vegas architecture hides from the sun. Blank walls of concrete and stucco face the south, with windows punched in odd places to allow some light but not so much that it will cook everyone inside. Perfect squares of sky look like a James Turrell installation. As we consider each room, there is much discussion of orientation.

I recently learned most Christian churches sit along an east-west axis, with the entrance to the west and the altar to the east. In most cathedrals, stained glass scenes from the Old Testament are on the north wall, and moments from the New Testament cover the south. “This was a theological statement,” write Gabriele and Perry in The Bright Ages. “In the northern hemisphere, the south-facing side of any building receives more sun, so the New Testament would be illuminated even as the Old Testament remained in the shadows.” 

As we continue our search, I find myself studying the sun’s path through windows more closely, hunting not only for moments of shade and aesthetic delight but metaphysical propaganda.